Rabbi Blog -Articles

A small sampling of stories or articles, usually from our weekly emails

The Covid-Chanukah Miracle of Lights



Dear Friend,

It was at the height of Covid-19 in California.

Vaccines were still a hope away, lockdowns had come and gone, and local color-code guidelines had taken their place. Fear of the unknown was still rampant.

But Chanukah was here, and Chanukah had to be celebrated—together, if at all possible.

The restaurants, back to operating at full-steam outdoors, had overtaken our regular space at the plaza over the lake, so we searched for a new, large, open-spaced location that could allow for a safe gathering.

Thank G-d we found a perfect place: The Grand Terrace at Central Park, right in front of City Hall and the Bell Tower.  We packaged Chanukah goodies in individual bags to distribute to the children, and… Read More »

A Cousin From Israel

Lech-Lecha Email

Dear Friend, 

Do you have a cousin (or another relative) from Israel? 

The reactions to my sharing last week that “my cousin from Israel will be here for Shabbat” brought out invariable reactions of interest, admiration, camaraderie, excitement, a certain something indefinable. 

Was it pride and solidarity? A  sense of connection? Wishfulness or prayer? 

He came with his wife thanks to a “dare” made at a recent family wedding, an upcoming milestone birthday, and his penchant for getting deals on cheap tickets to anywhere. (And, apparently, to be the 10th man at our monthly Shabbos family service.)

It was a great surprise and pleasure to host him and his wife, and they… Read More »

When Pinchas Visited Hospice


  Pinchas 5779

 Standing outside the door of the hospice home, in the hot evening sun of late-July, we were waiting for someone to answer our multiple knocks—on the door, on the patio slider with the drawn curtains, and even on the garage windows where we had detected movement moments earlier.


We were later than usual and were already familiar with the staff’s preference for no visits after six, but it wasn’t an unreasonable hour so I persisted, thinking, “Why should Leon* miss out on his regular visit and prayer just because of my oversight and the minuscule inconvenience for the staff?”


Earlier that afternoon I had been preparing for and recording our weekly… Read More »

In the Big City or the Burbs - A Nation That Dwells Alone

 Balak Email - 5779

Where do you think it’s easier to be Jewishly observant -  New York or California?

 If you answered New York you could be forgiven. One borough can contain more Jews, more kosher restaurants, more synagogues, more schools and study halls and religious-social opportunities than most states in the union. With such a supportive environment, what could be easier than living, eating, praying, and celebrating as the Torah teaches?

 But, as I discovered in an enlightening talk I had with a young man this week, somehow the plethora of Jewish opportunity can also come with a downside: in the busy city there is often also a profuse availability and accessibility of debasement and debauchery… Read More »

A Night of Surf and Soul at LAX

 A Night of Soul and Surf at LAX*

*Names have been changed to protect privacy

It was expected to be routine drop-off to the airport. But when is a summer’s night trip to LAX ever routine?


We set out early. To the west, a large, round sun glowed egg-yolk orange as it dipped beneath the horizon, while ahead, dark clouds hung low and dirtied the skies, marking the way to LA.


Waze promised a travel time of one hour and four minutes. Sure enough, exactly one hour and three minutes later the airport was in sight, but a long line of stationary cars blocked our entrance. A quick turn-off on a potholed side-road brought us to another airport approach, but we were met again by a line of glaring red hind-lights, moving… Read More »

And Moshe Saw - In Honor of 3 Tamuz 5775

From Weekly Email, Korach 5775 - Gimmel Tamuz Yartzeit of the Rebbe

Most of this was written while hunched over my iPhone at the edge of bench in a crowded marquee near the Rebbe's Ohel Friday before Shabbos

Doomed by a Self-diagnosed Prophecy 

Korach, a learned and prominent cousin of Moshe, rebels against Moshe’s leadership and choices of appointments in the sanctuary-including that of his brother Aaron as high priest. Korach brings along in his rebellion 250 prominent members of the tribe of Reuven and some other known rabble-rousers. 

This becomes more than just grumbling about nepotism—it turns into a dangerous, full-blown challenge against Moshe’s credibility as… Read More »

Yom Kippur and the Language of Sorry

This Friday evening, October 3, begins the 25-hour Jewish biblical holiday of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Yom Kippur observances include eating a celebratory pre-fast meal, lighting candles before sundown on Friday, fasting from food and drink from sundown on Friday till Saturday night after dark, communal and individual holiday prayers, avoiding weekday work and activity, and refraining from washing or applying lotions for pleasure, wearing leather shoes, and marital relations. It is considered the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, a special day for starting anew and Divine atonement.

The word atonement doesn’t have to conjure up the image of a child who has just been grounded for a week to atone for unruly behavior, or… Read More »

"Rebbe": A Great Read and Even Better Guide

As published in the Orange County Jewish Life magazine, July 2014

"I only hope that I have fairly and accurately conveyed a least a part of his essence. If I have, then of one thing I am confident: you will become a better person as a result of learning and reading about him…”

So read the last sentences of Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s most recent book, Rebbe, a book that has just made the New York Times bestseller list and has enjoyed consistently positive reviews in news outlets from across the spectrum, including the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, USA Today, Publisher's Weekly, and Commentary.

Unusual as it might be to begin a book-review with the last sentences of a book (from the acknowledgement pages… Read More »

Go Jump... It's Passover!

For the OC Register and Rancho Canyon News 

Passover is here again and since last year I’ve made a new discovery: not only do many young people not know the story of the exodus from the Torah, they don’t even know it from Hollywood. (How old were they when the Prince of Egypt came out?) Not that the latter is wholly a bad problem—it leaves less misconceptions to undo— but it does create a different challenge: Where do you start?

The basic story is easy enough: The Israelites are enslaved by Pharaoh in Egypt. G-d sends Moses, who brings the ten plagues, and leads them out to freedom. In their haste, they bake the dough before it has time to rise. It becomes matzah. The Israelites travel through desert and sea… Read More »

When the Maccabees Celebrated Thanksgiving

 For the OC Register and Rancho Canyon News

Does cranberry applesauce go with turkey latkes? Should we try for two family gatherings or just one? The anticipated convergence of Chanukah and Thanksgiving this year has yielded an early bumper crop of commentary, as well as a flurry of fretful clucking over schedule conflicts and contented purring over culinary opportunities.

But is the timing just a chic calendrical coincidence—the last time this happened was in 1888—or does it bring any meat to the table?

Jewish tradition—and the belief in specific Divine Providence as taught by the Baal Shem Tov—teaches us that we can learn something from every encounter in life. Certainly when it pertains to a holiday we… Read More »

Forgiveness of Whom? - Yom Kippur

Rancho Canyon News, Friday 9/13/13 

This Friday evening through Saturday is the Jewish biblical holiday of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Yom Kippur observances include eating a festive meal and candle-lighting before sundown on Friday, holiday prayers, fasting from food and drink from sundown of Friday till Saturday night after dark, avoiding weekday work and activity, and refraining from washing or applying lotions for pleasure, wearing leather shoes, and marital relations.

On this day we are compared to angels, and many people wear white as an expression of this. It is a day when we come clean, as the Torah says, “On this day He will atone for you to purify you from you all your misdeeds….”

There are… Read More »

The Jewish New Year and the New You

For OC Register (Sep 2) and Rancho Canyon News (Aug 30)

 Ever since the days of old, new has been in. Obviously not for everything—think matured wines, cheeses, or minds, for instance—but for things like new opportunities or prospects that make the heart race with excitement, the lungs fill with the breath of expectancy, and the attitude flush with optimism.

 A new year certainly falls into that category. This Wednesday evening, September 4, people around the world usher in the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year of 5774. Observances include candle-lighting, festive meals with foods like apple dipped in honey, communal services, hearing the Shofar, waterside Tashlich ceremony and more.

 The New Year… Read More »

She Told Me Not to Come

Dear Friend,

Last night I returned from a visit to New York, where my mother had been in hospital for unexpected surgery and treatment.

It was not an emergency—at least not by the time I went. The emergency was a week earlier, when a routine doctor’s visit turned a lingering concern into an immediate need for surgery and hospitalization. Thank G-d other family members who live closer were able to mobilize and be there in time to help.

But now my mother had returned home to rest and recuperate, and after another sibling had to leave to go home she insisted that no one come to take over. So I came.

Sometimes you're not supposed to listen.

A week of doctor visits, errands, food prep, and support – my time wasn’t… Read More »

On Becoming a Gold Medalist - In honor of 3 Tamuz

Published in OC Register - Rancho Canyon News, June 14, 2013

 On Becoming a Gold Medalist

 This Tuesday, June 11, commemorates the 19th anniversary of the passing of the legendary leader of the modern Jewish era, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (

 In January of 1994, Congress passed a resolution awarding him, posthumously, with a congressional gold medal, “for his outstanding and enduring contributions toward world education, morality, and acts of charity.”  He founded the Chabad network of over 2,000 religious, educational and community centers in countries around the world. 

 But his influence went far beyond centers: He tirelessly dispensed… Read More »

Passover: Humility, Freedom, and Tradition

Published in the OC Register and Rancho Canyon News, spread over two weeks, April 2013 

Passover: What’s it about?

As chirping frogs herald the advent of spring and newspapers tell of swarms of locusts descending upon the Middle East, you know that Passover is in the offing. Passover is the biblical holiday that celebrates the exodus of the Jewish people from Ancient Egypt and their miraculous deliverance from slavery under the Pharaoh and his bloodthirsty cohorts in the year 2448 from creation (1313 BCE).

 This year Passover arrives on Monday evening, March 25. Observances include a variety of elements: There’s the traditional seder that includes matzah, bitter herbs, four cups of wine, reliving the story… Read More »

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